10 Awesome Reasons to Visit Chiang Mai, Thailand

Find out why Chiang Mai should be on your Thailand itinerary

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  • 20 August 2018
  • • 9 min read

Chiang Mai is one of the cultural capitals of the country. It was also once the capital of Thailand, and the many temples and ruins scattered around the city are proof of this. A visit to Thailand is arguably not complete until you have ventured to this historic city. If you are somehow still not convinced that you need to visit Chiang Mai, then be sure to read on to discover 10 amazing reasons why you cannot miss out on travelling here during your Thailand trip!


Doi Inthanon National Park © Courtesy of Kelly Iverson/Mad Monkey

Because of its northern location and higher altitude, Chiang Mai is a fairly pleasant city to visit in comparison to some of the other cities in Thailand. The northern capital is (for the most part) pleasant to visit all year round, though the best time to go is during the dry or cool season. This takes place from about November until February. Temperatures are usually around mid-80s (Fahrenheit) and the city is even cooler at night. Be sure to bring a light jacket if you plan on motorbiking or riding a bicycle after dark.


Coffee in Chiang Mai © Courtesy of Kelly Iverson/Mad Monkey

Self-proclaimed coffee connoisseurs will simply fall in love with the city of Chiang Mai. You will be hard-pressed to venture around this city without finding a cool coffee shop on almost every corner. In addition to serving up delicious brews, many of these cafes double as social enterprises and source their coffee beans from hill-tribe villages that would otherwise be hard-pressed to make enough money to sustain themselves.

In addition to drinking coffee for a good cause, the brews in the northern region of Thailand are better than anywhere else in the country.

For more information about the awesome coffee culture in Chiang Mai, where to find the best cups of java, and more, check out Mad Monkey’s  article on their favourite cafes in the city .


Day trip to Doi Inthanon National Park © Courtesy of Kelly Iverson/Mad Monkey

Bathing elephants, rock climbing, whitewater rafting: there isn't a single day trip the city of Chiang Mai is not equipped with. The city is surrounded by striking mountain scenery, and within this jungle terrain are enough day trips to go around for every type of traveller. Sure, the temples within walking distance of Old City are fascinating, but a trip to Chiang Mai is not complete without venturing out of the city's crumbling walls and exploring the surrounding scenery. Some of the top day trips include a trip to Doi Suthep, a visit to Elephant Nature Park, and a hike at Doi Inthanon National Park.

For more information on the best day trips and more,  check out this complete guide .


Lila Thai Massage in Chiang Mai © Courtesy of Kelly Iverson/Mad Monkey

Getting a Thai massage is a must while visiting the Kingdom, and one of the cheapest places in which to do so is in Chiang Mai. Whether you are sore from carrying around a backpack larger than you are or simply want to see what all the hype is about, there is a massage parlour for every traveller to the northern capital. Some spas even double as social enterprises, so you can feel good about all of the twisting, stretching, rocking, and pulling taking place at the hands of your massage therapist.

To find out more on getting a massage in Chiang Mai,  check out this complete guide to this ancient therapeutic practice in the city .


Temple in Chiang Mai © Courtesy of Kelly Iverson/Mad Monkey

With a city equipped with over 300 temples, 30 of which are in the Old City alone, it may seem like a no-brainer that one of the top reasons to visit Chiang Mai is to frequent one of these incredible religious structures. Monks are happy to explain their lifestyle and the Buddhist principles that they live by at many of these, as well. Chiang Mai is also home to one of the most renowned temples in all of Thailand: Wat Phra Doi Suthep.

To learn even more about these incredible temples, their hours, what you should wear to them, and more, check out this  complete guide to temple-hopping in the city .


Khao soi © Courtesy of Kirsten Muolic/Mad Monkey

Thai food greatly varies from region to region. The spicy curries you finally got accustomed to in Southern Thailand are entirely different than those curries found in Northern Thailand. Laos and Myanmar played a large role in the staple dishes of the northern region, as the country is bordered by both of these countries. The unique climate also plays a part in the particular dishes this region is renowned for. Because it is cooler, an array of different herbs and vegetables are able to grow here and nowhere else in the country. Thai dishes are less salty, lack as many seafood options, and are known for being more bitter and sour in the north. Sticky rice plays a large role in the diets of locals living in Northern Thailand as opposed to white rice. Some of the most famous Northern Thai dishes include gaang hang lair (Northern Thai curry), khao soi (egg noodles in a coconut curry with deep-fried noodles on top), and sai oi (Northern Thai sausage).


Vegetarian acai bowl in Chiang Mai © Courtesy of Kelly Iverson/Mad Monkey

Vegan and vegetarians, rejoice! There are so many delicious venues that are animal-free and affordable. This city has become somewhat of a watering hole for those who abide by a meat-free diet because of the sheer number of vegetarian and vegan restaurants in Chiang Mai. One great example of this is Aum Vegetarian. This restaurant has a plethora of meat-free dishes, both Thai and Western, and all are only a few bucks. Free Bird Cafe is another popular favourite. This vegan cafe is found along the moat at North Gate and doubles as a social enterprise, as it supports Thai Freedom House. Other tasty vegetarian eateries include Dada Kafe, Taste From Heaven, and Reform Kafe.

For a complete list of our favourite vegetarian and vegan restaurants in Chiang Mai,  check out this article .


Songthaew © Courtesy of Kelly Iverson/Mad Monkey

The Old City of Chiang Mai is at the heart of the action. Taxis, tuk-tuks, and songthaews can take you from here to surrounding attractions, venues, the airport, and bus station. Expect to pay anywhere from ฿30-200, depending on where it is you are going. In some cases, the price will also depend on your negotiation skills. The best place to pick up transportation is along the outer square of Old City, as drivers usually do a few laps before finding a passenger. You can also rent a motorbike for cheap (as little as ฿200 a day). There are many shops that rent out bicycles for a day for as little as ฿40 a day. Grab is readily available for those of you who want to book with the app and get a ride without having to barter.

For more information on how to get around the city, be sure to check out this  complete transportation guide to Chiang Mai .


Chiang Mai countryside © Courtesy of Kelly Iverson/Mad Monkey

Chiang Mai is one of the most budget-friendly cities in all of Thailand. Entire meals can be devoured for under a dollar. Accommodation options start at a few bucks a night. Even getting to the city from neighbouring ones like Bangkok can be incredibly cheap if you opt for forms of transportation like a train or bus. There are also plenty of free things to do in the city, including visiting one of the green spaces the city is adorned with, checking out all the free temples in the Old City, or simply relaxing along the 800-year-old moat. Some of the best things in life are free, and Chiang Mai is a great example of this.

To find out more about things to do in Chiang Mai on a budget,  check out this complete guide .


Chiang Rai © Courtesy of Kelly Iverson/Mad Monkey

There are plenty of reasons to visit Chiang Mai, and two of them are because it is just a short ride away from both Chiang Rai and Pai. These northern cities are ones that need to be included on your Thailand itinerary if you have vacation days to spare. Chiang Rai was once Thailand's thriving capital. It is home to the Golden Triangle, and it is here you can see Thailand, Myanmar, and Laos all from one spot along the Mekong River. Pai is about four hours from Chiang Mai. The ride is definitely a nerve-racking one but the end destination is well worth the trip. This city is renowned for its delightful, hippie vibes and laid-back atmosphere. Travellers mostly venture here to simply relax, though there so many more things to do in and around the city if you are looking for an adventure, as well.

For more information about Chiang Rai, how to get there from Chiang Mai, and more, check out this  complete guide .

For more information about Pai and whether or not you should go there while on a trip to Chiang Mai,  check out this complete guide to both cities .


Did you absolutely love this article about Chiang Mai? Do you want even more information about why you should visit this incredible city and the top things to see and do once you are there? Then be sure to check out the following articles we have rounded up to help you make the most out of your visit. Do not forget to visit  Mad Monkey Hostel Chiang Mai  while you are there: this is by far the best accommodation option in the city!

  • 9 Reasons Why You Should Visit Chiang Mai Over Bangkok by Kelly Iverson for  Culture Trip

  • Chiang Mai: a Complete Backpacker's Guide to this Northern Thai City by Kelly Iverson for  Mad Monkey

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